Ahead of Debate, Polls in Crucial State May Be Telling

President trails Biden by 9 points in Pennsylvania, though this is similar to 2016 numbers
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 29, 2020 12:44 PM CDT
Polls in a Crucial State Illustrate Trump's Challenge
In this May 28 photo, mail-in primary election ballots are processed at the Chester County Voter Services office in West Chester, Pa.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Two new polls out of the pivotal state of Pennsylvania are getting lots of attention ahead of the first presidential debate. Both show Joe Biden up by 9 points over President Trump, with Biden seeming to make inroads with groups that backed the president in the 2016 race. Coverage:

  • The polls: A New York Times/Sienna College polls has Biden up 49% to 40% among likely voters in the state. A Washington Post/ABC News poll has Biden up 54% to 45%.
  • The stakes: Trump has "virtually no path to a second term without Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes," per the Times. Biden (a Scranton native) can lose the state and still win, though not easily. As Politico notes, Pennsylvania is one of three Rust Belt states Trump won in 2016, all by less than a point. The other two were Wisconsin and Michigan.

  • The caveat: With a month to go before the election in 2016, Hillary Clinton led in Pennsylvania by double-digits. However, Trump gradually closed the gap in the final weeks and trailed by only 2 points before voting took place. Meaning the polls were off by only about 3 points, writes Aaron Blake in an analysis at the Washington Post.
  • Key demographics: Biden has strong support in Philadelphia and its populous suburbs, "with backing from college-educated white people and women—notably white, moderate and suburban women—central to his advantage," per ABC. But Biden also is eating into groups that backed Trump in 2016, including white voters without a college education, who make up half of the state's electorate. Trump still leads among this group by 17 points, but that's about half the size of his final margin over Clinton. In all, about 8% of Trump's 2016 backers now side with Biden. Given that Trump won the state by just 44,000 votes, that could end up hurting the president this year.
  • Debate stakes: At the right-leaning Hot Air, Allahpundit sees "alarm bells" for Trump in these polls. Trump seems to have a "ceiling of 45%" in Pennsylvania, and that's not going to cut it. "In a race that’s essentially a two-man field, it’s a red alert," he writes. "There may be a polling error that’s underestimating him right now, but the odds that it’s on the order of five percent are small. He needs a big win tonight."
(More Election 2020 stories.)

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